Identifying and fixing problems at Degica
Kazunori initially joined Degica as a web application engineer, but by identifying problems he wanted to fix, his role shifted first to VP of Infrastructure, and then VP of Payment Products.
Kazunori Kajihiro started his journey to becoming a software developer when he was fifteen and attended a kōsen, a 5-year technical school where he studied programming. Upon graduation at twenty, he started working professionally as a developer.
In 2014, he was looking for a new opportunity, and was specifically interested in working on a payment product. When he came across a web application engineer position for Degica’s payment platform Komoju, he thought it could be a match, and so he applied for it.
At the first interview, he had a surprise. He says, “All of the people in my first interview were foreigners! There were no Japanese. That was when I realized that Degica was an international company. What’s more, all the foreigners spoke Japanese very fluently!”
Degica was in for a surprise too. Kazunori says, “I didn’t speak English during the interview. Degica hired me because of my professional skills as a programmer. After I joined though, I started speaking in English. My boss at that time said that I should have used English in the interview.”
You see, Kazunori was already a fluent English speaker, despite never having used it professionally before. He says, “This is kind of embarrassing. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to sing American songs. That was my motivation, so I started learning English at home watching YouTube videos.”
Degica’s development team mostly communicates in English. Even though many people at Degica are bilingual, sometimes Kazunori acts as a translator. He says, “If we need to talk to external partners, like our payment gateway partners, like convenience store or credit card payment partners, they have quite a Japanesey culture. The foreigners in Degica can’t always understand what they want. So I need to translate. Not the language translation, but translating their culture into the global international culture. Japanese traditional companies are very special.
“For example, they want to come to the office, but without any reason. Just to say hi. For that purpose, they bring six people. Another example is their emails. Japanese emails can be quite cryptic, with lots of meaningless phrases, so it’s difficult to understand what they want to say, what they want us to do.“
When Kazunori first joined, he worked as a Rails developer, adding backend features to Komoju such as new REST APIs, and supporting more payment methods. After about a year of working there, he identified a problem: Degica’s infrastructure wasn’t up to snuff. He says, “When I joined, it was the year we launched Komoju. So our production environment was still in a quite early stage. I like thinking about infrastructure things, and before I joined Degica, I was doing some hobby projects on AWS and Docker. So I was thinking about how to improve Degica’s infrastructure.”
Degica has a work abroad program that allowed Kazunori to travel to Barcelona and spend two weeks there working on whatever he wanted. There he developed an open source platform as a service, which he dubbed Barcelona. After returning from his trip, he gave a presentation on why Degica’s current approach to infrastructure needed to be replaced, and why Barcelona was a good solution to their problems. The engineering team and CEO agreed with his proposal, and Kazunori’s role shifted from web development to rebuilding Degica’s infrastructure.
As he took on more responsibilities, he was promoted to VP of Infrastructure and Security at Degica. In that role, he helped to grow Degica’s site reliability engineering team, and by 2019, the infrastructure was very stable and working well.
Degica’s business was also doing quite well, and Komoju was a profitable, growing product. Still, something felt wrong to Kazunori. He says, “We didn’t have a product vision. Our business was very stable, but I felt that we didn’t have a long term direction. I felt like we lost direction. We didn’t know what we wanted to achieve. What we wanted to realize. I thought that we needed a product manager, and I told Jack, our CEO, that I wanted to change my position, from the head of the infrastructure to be the product guy.”
Jack agreed, and in the beginning of 2020, Kazunori’s title was changed to VP of Payment Products to reflect his new responsibility. He says, “My first task was to define our product vision. So I started writing, and thinking about the Komoju product vision. It’s still a work in progress, but now we know where we want to go. And it made a big difference. When everybody understands the vision, then all the employees, from the engineers to the customer success team, can think about the future.”
The ability to shift roles is one of the things he thinks makes Degica a great place to work. He says, “Like my story, if there is a reason, engineers can do whatever they want. We encourage them to do that.”